The tradeplate, or the back of the printed photo card, was at first plain and simple. Then as photographers learned more about their art it became obvious that this space was ideal for advertising the name and location of the photographic studio. Gradually the tradeplate became more and more decorative. The children in the carte-de-visite below are members of the Dore family, William and Walter. They look rather hot in their outfits. Kisch clearly favoured the trellis background which appears in several of his portraits.
Ernest Bell Pay b 1875*. He is still wearing skirts – boys were usually ‘breeched’ at the age of four so he may be about 3 or 4 years old in this photograph taken, therefore, circa 1878/79. He has elastic-sided boots with socks turned over the tops; his garment is of a durable fabric such as serge, somewhat warm for the Natal sub-tropical climate, and a touch of white frill shows at the high neckline relieving the sombre colour. Ernest’s hair falls into natural curls.
The photographer has taken care in positioning his subject, the attractive Natal colonial-style lattice work behind and wooden diamond-shaped bamboo embellishment below providing a decorative frame though not detracting from the main focus of the picture. The date of 1878/9 fits in with the plainness of the mount, which has rounded corners and is blank on the back: the value of the space on the reverse of the carte for advertising purposes had yet to be considered. An impressed stamp, ‘KISCH’, is hardly visible at the bottom right of the carte de visite.
In 1878/9 Benjamin Kisch was operating his Durban studio without the help of his brother Henry, also a photographer, who had moved to Pmb in 1875. At the date this photo was taken - and until 1880 - Benjamin Kisch worked from his studio in Smith Street ‘opposite the Durban Club’; previously advertised as ‘Kisch Bros’ now ‘Benjamin Kisch, photographer and artist’. In 1881 he moved to premises in Mercury Lane, Durban, ‘opposite the Congregational Church’.
*Grandson of Captain William Bell and Mary Anne nee Caithness; son of Charles George Pay and Sarah Scott nee Bell.